Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

Year: 2015
Production Co: CNN FIlms
Director: Alex Gibney
Producer: Alex Gibney

Alex Gibney, who bought us Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, starts his investigation into the enigma of Steve Jobs with scenes of people setting up shrines and candles outside Apple stores after Jobs' 2011 death.

Reminiscent of the flowers crowding the gates of Buckingham Palace after Princess Diana's 1997 death, such images prompt the first question Gibney asks with the movie; what did this guy do for millions of strangers to love him so completely they mourned his death like he was a relative?

In an era where we love singers, actors and reality stars, what makes us feel the same way about a company CEO, a figure popular culture usually depicts as sniveling, corrupt, greedy and borderline criminal to such an extent we tend to assume it about all rich company leaders until proven otherwise nowadays (watch any movie that features a conglomerate – the more senior the executive, the more likely he or she will be the villain)?

There's a lot of material to mine to find the answer. As well as the talking heads Gibney has collected together, archive footage includes clips from old investor meetings, TV interviews, the historic Macworld conference where Jobs launched the iPhone, etc.

There's also very interesting footage of Jobs giving a video deposition in Apple's big lawsuit with Samsung in 2009, where's he's visibly irritated with the line of questioning and clearly doesn't want to be there.

That footage – along with a clip of an Apple strategy meeting in the 90s in which Jobs gets pissed off with the responses he's getting – serves to support the mystique we all want to believe; that he was a brilliant tyrant who made the most successful products in the world but didn't care who he ran roughshod over to do it.

In actual fact, it's all these movies about Steve Jobs that are creating the mystique in the first place. We know most of the sordid stories – like how he fucked Steve Wozniak out of almost their entire first payday and how he refused to acknowledge his biological daughter for years.

Consequently, Jobs no longer feels like an enigma – surely Walter Isaacs' book told us everything. Jobs (from a few years back and starring Ashton Kutcher) wasn't very well received but it told us the story again. The no-doubt glossy and prestigious Steve Jobs – coming next year from director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin – will undoubtedly be a great film, but what's it going to offer that's new?

There might not be such a Grand Guignol conspiracy of brilliance and mistreatment. But Gibney – along with everyone else who's ever painted a picture of Jobs, falls victim to Hollywood gloss, wanting the story to be much more exciting and melodramatic than it probably was in real life. Even Apple executive Eddy Cue took to Twitter to rubbish the movie as 'inaccurate' and 'mean-spirited'.

The first clue you get about Gibney's intent is the notable absence of people who were still in Jobs' life in the later years, like Apple design head Jony Ive or Jobs' daughter Lisa (who Jobs finally reconciled with).

The only people who go on record saying what a monster he was are from his remote past like Lisa's mother, who he dumped and did his best to get out of paying alimony to, and a former Apple staffer who fights back tears while he explains how his job at Apple cost him his marriage and that Jobs 'was not that much fun most of the time'.

Steve Jobs: The Man in The Machine is about spinning a swashbuckling tale from component parts, not putting them together to let the tale tell itself.

It might be simply that he was a rock star because we treated him like one, so he acted more like one, so we treated him more like one, etc., and you don't need a 90 minute documentary to explain that.

That's perhaps the question a more interesting film would have answered, but instead of doing even that, Gibney goes off with yet another dreary coda about how technology that was supposed to bring us closer together instead drives us further into isolation, blah blah blah.

None of which is to say Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine isn't an effective or well-made movie. If you know nothing about the Jobs myth it'll give you as accepted a media picture as the other books or films have done.

If you know all about the driven genius/brutal dictator narrative, it won't add anything new, but there's lots of real-life material you've probably never seen, and while it doesn't answer any of the questions Gibney poses, it's fascinating viewing.

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